Ethan Rinks says he is picky when dating and likes things to be orderly. “I can sometimes be a control freak and very routine and by the book,” said the native of Savannah, Tenn. But this spring when Ethan saw a cutie in the Date Lab column, he decided to toss a little chaos into the mix by applying. “I thought it would be good for me to step outside of my box,” he said, “and have a true blind date. Let’s just see how this goes.”

And though he may mostly color inside the lines when looking for love, Ethan has led an unusual professional life. He did a two-year stint in Ecuador for the Peace Corps, which helped bring him to Washington in 2012. Now, he manages programs that remove land mines and other unexploded ordnance from post-conflict areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands for the State Department. “I love connecting with people and to be able to visit a lot of the projects that the U.S. funds in these countries,” he said.

At 37, Ethan wants a life companion and eventually would like to get married, but there’s no rush. His last relationship ended amicably after four years in 2019 — he said it wasn’t built for the long haul — and he’s content with singleton life. “I think it’s unhappy to look for happiness in someone else before you find it in yourself,” he explained. “Whoever I find is kind of like the cherry on top.”

This time, the risk was worth the reward — initially at least. Ethan was pleased when he first saw his date, Frankie Catalfumo, a 30-year-old infectious-disease epidemiologist. “You don’t know what to expect, and it’s strange to have no idea what this person is going to look like, but he was a super attractive guy,” Ethan said.

Unknowns are something Frankie has grown more comfortable with after this past year helping to fight covid-19 in a hospital. “The pandemic was really rough, as unexpected as it was and with the absence of CDC guidance due to many political issues,” he said. “I describe it as building the plane as you fly it.” There were weeks when Frankie worked as many as 90 hours and felt as if he were hanging on by a thread.

His last relationship ended a year ago, but dating petered off during the pandemic, as it did for so many others. “I thought, ‘Wow, I have probably one of the most sexiest careers right now and I can’t date,’ ” said Frankie, who grew up as a “beach baby” in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He learned about Date Lab while on a hike with a friend who had submitted the night before, and Frankie soon decided to apply. He was hopeful he would meet someone he might not have crossed paths with otherwise.

It turns out both Ethan and Frankie spent quarantine working on sprucing up their craft cocktail skills, something they discovered pretty quickly after arriving at Duke’s Grocery near Dupont Circle on a Friday evening. “We’re both very interested in amaro; it’s like a bitter Italian liqueur,” Frankie explained. “Nobody is this obsessed over this bitter liqueur because not many people are interested.”

Frankie talked about making his own Buddha’s hand-infused vodka, orangecello, lavender gin and a goji berry rum. Ethan shared that he is making a shrub (a drinking vinegar) to create his own cocktail.

They ordered burgers, split mac and cheese, and each had five drinks over the four hours they were at Duke’s. The two men were surprised they had so many points of overlap. Frankie was also in the Peace Corps, and both come from large families and love hiking. Frankie described the solo hiking trip he had recently taken in East Tennessee — unfortunately not near the Catfish Capital of the World, where Ethan grew up.

“One of the great things about this kind of connection is how many common interests we have, which I think is rare,” Ethan told me. “Deciding to join the Peace Corps is a pretty big decision and I guess indicative of a kind of worldview and flexible living that is nice to find in someone.” The conversation veered from making up their own “Real Housewives” tag lines to music to Frankie’s flora and foliage collection. “In gay terms, he’s a plant daddy,” Ethan said.

Ideas for future dates came up too, such as trying out an amaro bar and hiking in Shenandoah National Park. The night ended with a kiss, and the next morning they were texting each other.

“He has some silvering on his temples, which is a very distinguished, handsome, sexy characteristic,” Frankie said. “We planted a lot of seeds. Now we just need to see which ones we want to germinate.”

Rate the date

Ethan: 5 [out of 5].

Frankie: 5.


After a second date, Ethan and Frankie decided they wanted to be friends. They shared cocktails again on a third meetup.

Tanya Ballard Brown is a stand-up comedian and an editor at NPR.